Impossible | Review by Steve Bennett
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Note: This review is from 2015

Review by Steve Bennett

Impossible. Both the title of the play and the answer to the question: ‘How easy does Phill Jupitus find it to sustain a credible Scottish accent?’

He’s cast as Arthur Conan Doyle in this piece exploring the true-life intellectual clash the Sherlock Holmes author had with Harry Houdini over spiritualism. The creator of literature’s most logical mind was bizarrely in thrall to mediums, even though his potential friend would debunk their trickery, explaining how they used same techniques he deployed on stage. It’s an argument of superstition versus rationality that seems rife for dramatic exploration, although writers Robert Khan and Tom Salinsky don’t do enough interesting with the promising premise.

Jupitus seems miscast as Conan Doyle, even if the crack about his accent is a little unfair, since in reality the author did speak in a slightly strange brogue. More problematic is that neither Jupitus, nor the script, offers much more to the Conan Doyle that a naif who just wanted to believe so much, possibly because he’s still mourning the death of his son – a rather pat suggestion that’s offered as an unalienable explanation for everything. The author even thinks Houdini has supernatural powers, even when the illusionist explains it’s fake, which may be true to reality, but we get no closer to understanding why.

Houdini is naturally a more charismatic showman of a figure, and Alan Cox gets stuck into the theatrical vanity and flamboyant bombast of a self-styled ‘honest liar’ – since he comes clean about his deception. There’s no more character to him, either, but at it’s an entertaining turn.

The dialogue, however, is pretty flat, each character setting forward argument and counter-argument as if exchanging correspondence, rather than engaging in impassioned debate. Occasionally there’s a line of wry wit or intellectual flourish, but they stand out for their rarity.

Review date: 28 Aug 2015
Reviewed by: Steve Bennett
Reviewed at: Pleasance Dome

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